CHASKA, Minn. — Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington stared at each other in utter disbelief and laughed. What they had just witnessed was mind-boggling.
As they were preparing to putt on the 606-yard, par-5 11th, a ball popped onto the green and rolled toward them. Looking back down the fairway, there was Alvaro Quiros, waving his arms in horror. The young Spaniard had just broken one of golf’s sacred rules of etiquette, hitting into the group ahead, a group that just happened to include the world’s No. 1 player, the defending PGA Champion, and Rich Beem, who won the 2002 PGA at Hazeltine.
Quiros had hit driver off the tee and driver off the fairway from about 290 yards.
“Normally I don’t try that, but today I was comfortable and it worked,” Quiros said, adding that he had no idea how far his tee shot flew. Answer: forever.
After his jaw-dropping display of power hitting, Quiros jogged over to apologize while the star-studded threesome waited on the 12th tee.
“I mean, that’s just stupid long, isn’t it?,” Woods said after his round, chuckling. “To hit it that far into the wind is phenomenal. It’s just absolutely phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball, not anymore. I just plod my way around, shoot 67.”
But who is this dashing Spaniard, who finished the day just two shots behind Woods after a three-under 69? Quiros, 26, is a James Bond fanatic who has no trouble standing out from the crowd. He’s 6-foot-3 with movie-star looks and pencil-thin sideburns. He usually sports a Greg Norman-style panama hat, but he opted for a more anonymous baseball cap on Thursday.
Quiros is new to the unique setups at the majors, but he has learned how to win on the regular tour. He has victories in each of his three full years on the European Tour, including the Qatar Masters in January. He showed signs of coming into form again last week, finishing 15th at the WGC-Bridgestone.
Quiros loved Hazeltine the minute he set foot on its 7,674 yards this week. He was six under after five holes in his first practice round and finished eight under.
“I started too good, to be honest,” he said. “I thought I’d spent all my birdies in the practice round.”
His former caddie, the experienced Dave McNeilly, is impressed: “Mark my words, this guy will be a superstar. He’s one of he best players I have worked for in 26 years.”
That’s high praise coming from McNeilly, who has looped for Harrington and Retief Goosen. Quiros now has Alistair McLean on his bag, Colin Montgomerie’s amiable, experienced and, let’s face it, long-suffering former caddie. That Quiros is already attracting the attention of A-list caddies is telling. Those guys know a good cash cow when they see one.
“Alvaro would be a great player if he ever drove it straight,” joked Sergio Garcia, his friend and compatriot. Quiros drives the ball into the middle of next week, but too often off the planet. He has topped the driving distance list the past two seasons in Europe and is averaging 315.56 yards this season. But he is only hitting 50% of fairways, ranking 188th in driving accuracy.
Quiros has been wowing crowds on the European Tour and in the U.S. with his power, but also with his charm and colorful personality. He blasted his way around Doral earlier this year, shooting a headline-grabbing 64 on the way to finishing 13th.
Quiros had always dreamed of making it on the PGA Tour, but he was overlooked for a college scholarship, and as the son of a gardener could not afford tuition. So he ground out his career through the amateur ranks, then Europe’s Challenge Tour and Qualifying School. His debut at the Masters in April came without Quiros ever having watched the tournament on TV because his family never had the money to pay for the TV feed.
He has now bought his father a satellite dish so he can follow his son’s journey around the world as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of countrymen Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. Quiros, ranked No. 39 in the world, is getting noticed and finding himself in marquee pairings. He is reveling in the atmosphere generated by the huge galleries.
“Every week, the guys have to handle this situation,” he said. “For Tiger and Padraig and all of these kind of good players, it’s normal. For me, it’s starting to be normal.”
Quiros is trying not to let his natural exuberance get the better of him after a dream start.
“Everybody knows that the good players are going to be at the top of the leaderboard in the fourth round,” he said. “The most important thing is to be the leader at the 72nd hole. I’m not going to fight against Tiger. I’m going to fight against myself and the golf course.”
Quiros is learning fast.